Workers Grill Whirlpool on Plant Closures

Chicago–(ENEWSPF)–April 17, 2012.  Members of the United Steelworkers (USW) and the IUE-CWA today demanded answers from Whirlpool executives who seem more interested in lining their pockets with huge benefit packages than investing in American workers and communities.

The workers questioned Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig and the board of directors at the appliance company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Chicago about closing two refrigerator plants, in Arkansas and Indiana, over the past two years, while giving their top five executives more than $75 million in so-called “golden coffin” commitments. “Golden coffins” are payments made to an executive’s family after his or her death.

“We wanted to ask them, face to face, why they turned their back on us, after we worked so hard to help the plant stay in business,” said USW Local 370 President Rick Nemeth, who works at the company’s Fort Smith, Ark., factory. Whirlpool announced last fall that it would close the plant later this year and move production to Mexico.

Nemeth said the USW has been working with political and labor leaders in Arkansas to develop alternatives and present financial incentives to Whirlpool to keep the factory open, but the company is not interested, claiming a drop in demand for side-by-side refrigerators.

The closure affects 800 hourly workers at the facility, and another 700 workers in the community who are part of the plant’s supply chain. A study from the University of Arkansas estimated the total loss of income to the community would be $61.5 million.

“It’s nothing more than greed. They will pay cheaper wages in Mexico,” Nemeth said. “This is going to be devastating to our community.”

Retired IUE-CWA member Davey Jones, who worked at the Evansville, Ind., refrigerator plant, which Whirlpool also outsourced to Mexico in 2010, presented a proposal at today’s meeting that would require shareholder approval before “golden coffin” payments could be made. His plan received support from 39 percent of the shareholders and will appear on next year’s ballot.

The USW represents about 850,000 working men and women in the United States and Canada in a wide variety of industries, ranging from glass making to mining, paper, steel, tire and rubber and other manufacturing environments, to the public sector, service and health care industries.